It's a third season for "Celebrity Rehab" as Dr. Drew Pinsky tries to help celebrities who have come to him for help with their drug and alcohol addictions. Some, like former "One Day At A Time" star Mackenzie Phillips, know they have a problem and genuinely want help. Others, like basketball's Dennis Rodman who says he's only in rehab because the courts put him there, don't think they have a problem at all. In the new season, which kicked off last week, other celebrities appearing include country singer Mindy McCready, former Madam Heidi Fleiss, actor Tom Sizemore and Alice In Chains bassist Mike Starr. Regardless of which side of the fence the patients are on, Dr. Drew and his able-bodied staff work tirelessly to getting these celebrity sober and deal with lifelong problems with cameras documenting every step. To find out more of the ins and outs of celebrity and rehabilitation, our Jim Halterman chatted last week with Pinsky.
Jim Halterman: In general, Dr. Drew, why is the story of addiction so compelling to audiences?
Dr. Drew Pinsky: It's probably the same reason that I do the work. It's such a human experience. It's one of the most human conditions I've ever treated. It's just painfully embedded in me and causes people to do things that are disturbing. It's like operating under a broken drive system and it goes in to our very core. What motivates us from moment to moment? We don't think about that very often but when it's broken it creates a lot of serious problems.
JH: The problems that these celebrities face often started way before they were ever celebrities, right? Does being a celebrity fuel the fire?
DP: Celebrity just gives them opportunities for it to run out of control. Being a celebrity really has no other impact than that. It's just a fertile environment for it to flourish but it doesn't cause addiction and it doesn't make addiction work or anything like that.
JH: When you have that first one-on-one with a new patient, do you get a good sense of how things are going to go in treatment or is it always unpredictable for you?
DP: It's very unpredictable. I've tried not to second-guess that. I've been doing this so long with so many people that I know when things are going to go well, I think, but even then sometimes I get surprised.
JH: Your book ("The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America") is about narcissism and celebrity but doesn't being on your show in front of cameras perpetuate that narcissism?
DP: That's the main Achilles and a main liability in doing this in front of cameras. It continues to propagate this sense of 'specialness' that they need to let go of. They need to just be a person with addiction. That's the only concern I have about treating them in this environment is that they don't feel special then they're not interested in the treatment and that's not okay.
JH: Recently, New York Times Magazine published an article recently about you and referred to you as a moral center. Do you agree with that label?
DP: Do I agree that I'm the moral center? I don't know how to react to that because it's not about morality. I hope I'm the emotional anchor on the show.
JH: I find as a viewer that it's stressful just watching the show. How do you and your co-workers handle your own emotions and don't get too emotionally involved with what's happening in rehab?
DP: You are emotionally effected to some extent but you learn that these are sick people and there's nothing personal necessarily but they're in an altered state but they're sick and they're miserable and you just have learn to understand the context of what they're experiencing and you need to tolerate the behavior.
JH: In the case of Tom Sizemore and Heidi Fleiss this season you have two people with a volatile history who are in the same treatment facility. What did you expect to happen there?
DP: Well, you don't put people in treatment that are currently romantically involved. You don't put people in treatment that are family members but people who have had a history of involvement is not that uncommon. Addicts tend to run together and when they're using they do horrible things to each other. So to have people to have a history together in the program is not unusual at all. In this case, they needed to know and that they were willing to consent to it and that they weren't going to let it impair their treatment. We went over that in great detail with both of them and they agreed to it and it really did not, for most of their treatment, have an impact.
JH: You have probably seen it all in your work but are you ever surprised at the stories you hear and what people have gone through?
DP: I'm never surprised anymore but I'm always sort of shocked and mortified but I'm not surprised. I still get shocked but I expect anything. I'm always ready to hear anything and just when I think I've heard it all, something else amazes but I'm not surprised by that and I don't expect anything. I used to be sort of shocked or I'd feel violated if they lied to me but now anything is possible with addicts and I do mean anything.
JH: You're so good on camera even back when you did 'Loveline.' Is it natural for you to be in front of the camera?
DP: I guess so. The only advice I get is from my wife who picks apart what I'm wearing but other than that I am not aware of anything that I am doing.
JH: How do you feel being called a sex symbol? Female friends of mine told me they like it when you show up in that black t-shirt.
DP: [laughs] That tells you that women are not responding to how you actually look but they're responding to something else and it also means that anybody can aspire to be attractive as a male. No one is off limits. As for the black t-shirt, I wear that a lot around home and that's what happens. I think that's what happened is they called me at home and I didn't change. I think it happens again this year.
"Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" airs Thursdays at 10:00/9:00c on VH1.